Bipartisanship? Not so much

From the House Ways & Means Health Subcommittee hearing on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission March report to Congress, Longworth House Office building.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) Commissioner Glenn Hackbarth found himself doing an Irish jig on St. Patrick’s Day Tuesday as he fielded requests, comments, and complaints from Democrats and Republicans on the Health Subcommittee that fell along clearly predictable party lines. 

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons User Adam Baker

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons User Adam Baker

Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark  (D-Calif.) set the tone by stating that health care reform started with Medicare and that the private sector had done a poor job with the small portion of the program it has been offered (known as Medicare Advantage).  The ranking Republican member, Wally Herger (Calif.) slammed back with allegations that Medicare is woefully inefficient, that it underpays physicians and hospitals, is rife with fraud and abuse, and that it’s the reason why health care costs so much for private citizens.

“I would strongly urge my friends on the other side to consider the evidence we’ll hear today — about the significant problems in the Medicare program — before trying to force 120 million Americans who currently have private helath insurance into another government-run health plan,” said Mr. Herger.

For the most part, committee members — both Democrats and Republicans — did not seem to actually want Mr. Hackbarth’s opinion or input on anything.   But Mr. Hackbarth is no potted plant.  He managed to give thoughtful responses on a variety of issues — from whether the Part D drug benefit has been a success or a failure to the appropriateness of geographically-determined payment adjustments to the necessity of cost-effectiveness research and how it should be used.

At one point, he was chastised for MedPAC’s supposed lack of diversity.  “You got a Texas guy on there?” asked Republican Rep. Sam Johnson.  Mr. Hackbarth responded no, but said there was a representative from the South.

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user exfordy

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user exfordy

Although Rep. Herger had suggested initially that Committee members should focus on areas of agreement in the hopes that it could “build the goodwill that could lead to a truly bipartisan health reform proposal,” it was clear by the end of the hearing that goodwill seemed to be in fairly short supply.

– Alicia Ault

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